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Careers in Geological Sciences

Major specializations of Geology:

  • Atmospheric science and climatology: Study of wind, weather, climate patterns, atmospheric chemistry.
  • Economic Geology: Exploration for and development of economically significant geological resources.
  • Engineering Geology: Study of geological factors affecting human-made structures
  • Environmental Geology: The study of the geological effects of pollution and of geological hazards such as flooding. The monitoring of these effects and hazards.
  • Geochemistry: The application of the study of the distribution of chemical compounds, elements, and their isotopes to geological issues. This field is a strong point of the UMCP Geology Department's research program.
  • Geochronology: The absolute dating of rocks by radiometric and other means.
  • Geomorphology: The study of the description and origin of surficial landforms.
  • Geophysics: The study of the Earth's interior, its temperature distribution, and its gravitational, electrical, and magnetic fields.
  • Glaciology: The study of the description and origin of glaciers and the features of ice dominated regions.
  • Hydrogeology: The study of the abundance, distribution, and chemistry of groundwater and surface fresh water.
  • Limnology: The study of lakes and ponds.
  • Mineralogy: The study of the formation and properties of minerals
  • Oceanography: The study of the geology of continental shelves and ocean basins, and of the properties of ocean water.
  • Paleontology: The study of the history of life based on its fossil remains.
  • Petroleum Geology: The study of the abundance and distribution of petroleum and of means for its extraction.
  • Petrology (igneous, clastic, carbonate, metamorphic): The study of the origin of rocks by the study of mineral and grain relationships
  • Planetary Geology: The study of the origin and properties of the Solar System and of the geology of non-terrestrial planetary bodies.
  • Sedimentology: The study of sedimenary rocks, the processes by which they form, and the their relative ages.
  • Seismology: The study of the location and force of earthquakes and of how seismic waves propagate.
  • Stratigraphy: The study of the temporal and spatial relationships of layered rocks.
  • Structural Geology: The study of the deformation, fracturing, and folding of rocks in the solid Earth.
  • Volcanology: The study of volcanoes and volcanism.


          There are large overlaps between many of these fields. Examples:

Where it's done: Depending on their specializations, geologists might work for:

Private industry:

  • Exploration and extraction of:
    • Fossil fuels
    • Mineral resources
    • Water
  • Contracting for governmental agencies:
    • Performing environmental monitoring of pollution and hazards (environmental geology). 

Federal and state governments.

  • Establishing base-line data of geologic features and resources.
  • Developing and implementing regulations for managing them.
  • Assessment of geologic natural hazards and implementation of policy to cope with them
  • Contribution of scientific expertise to other concerned governmental agencies.


Major geologist-employing agencies in North America include:

  • Academia:
  • Fundamental geological research. This may be research into:
  • Issues and technologies with foreseeable practical applications
  • The increase of human knowledge with no immediate practical application. (This doesn't mean one won't be discovered. For example, the Smithsonian contains a large Victorian era collection of bird's egg shells. Long thought to be the useless toy of a dilettante naturalist, they suddenly became important in the 1960s when Rachel Carson publish Silent Spring and the world's attention was focused on the effects of pesticides in the environment.)
  • Technical support for geological research:
  • Maintaining laboratories
  • Performing analytical procedures.
  • And of course, my favorite: Education

What it takes to get in:

    A Bachelor's degree in Geology can land you proper jobs:

  • As technicians performing field and lab analytical procedures. (The growing private water-resource industry employs graduates with knowledge of hydrogeology and environmental Geology.)
  • With governmental agencies such as geological surveys.
  • In secondary education, when combined with teaching certification.

A Master's degree in Geology:

  • Increases the range of positions in the government and private industry that might be open to you.
  • Education in small/community colleges.

A PhD in Geology:

  • Opens the doors to the full range of academic positions for the best candidates. Note: Many are called but few are chosen in academia.
  • Facilitates access to higher career track positions in private industry.
  • Stratigraphers must also be, in part, paleontologists to interpret index fossils, seismologists to interpret seismic stratigraphic data, geochronologist to interpret absolute dates from igneous rocks in their stratigraphic columns, and structural geologists to reconstruct the original configuration of deformed strata.
  • Petroleum geologists must also be structural geologists to identify structural petroleum traps.
  • Imagine that you're a planetary geologist studying Mars. You must be comfortable with glaciology, volcanology, geomorphology, and hydrogeology. In fifteen years or so, spacecrafts will return samples from Mars' surface, whereupon you will need to be a mineralogist and petrologist also.
  • In a more profound way, Geologists are interdisciplinarians, connecting with non-geological specialties. E.G.:
  • Geologic hazard prediction: Remember the Bandar Aceh earthquake/tsunami of December 2004? We know that major earthquakes occur along that plate boundary roughly every 300 years on average. We don't know exactly when the next one will be. Making that prediction is fundamentally as much a mathematical and statistical problem as it is a geological one.
  • Climate change predictions: Here Geology, Meteorology, Chemistry, and Physics link up under the command of Computer Scientists developing complex climate models that challenge the world's fastest computers.
  • Regardless specialization, geologists spend lots of time in labs performing analytic procedures and at their desks interpreting and writing up the results. In many areas, large portions of time are spent in the field.